The Los Angeles Riots A Biblical Perspective
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/01/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 80-104, titled "The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective." A copy of
the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama
City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
of the sermon, "The Los Angeles Riots: A Biblical Perspective," to strengthen
and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The Los Angeles Riots
A Biblical Perspective
This morning I want to endeavor, by the Lord's help, to give a perspective on
what we have seen this week in our city. I would be unfaithful to the task
of the prophet and the shepherd if I didn't endeavor to comment on it. There
are so many things to say and many perspectives that could be brought to
bear. I am not here to give you some political perspective, I am not here to
give you some economic perspective, I have only one responsibility really,
before God, and that is to give you a Biblical perspective. I know today
that many churches across our country, many of my own fellow pastors and
friends in the black inner city of Los Angeles and other places in our
country are going to be facing their congregations with a similar need to
articulate some kind of perspective as to what is going on.
There are many ways that it might be approached; we could talk about the
signs of the last days and the decline in culture, the decline in man's
demonstration of the image of God as he grows worse and worse, as social
structure and society and man himself begins to unravel at the seams and wind
down until the coming of Jesus Christ finally brings his sinfulness to an
end. But I don't want to follow the prophetic path. We could talk about a
Biblical economic path and what is just and what is right in terms of social
economics and what does the Bible teach about how the needs of the poor are
to be met by those have and have been blessed by God with some measure of
wealth. We could talk about educational issues: do people in certain parts
of our culture find themselves on the short end of the stick educationally
and from the standpoint of opportunity and what does that mean to the dignity
of man and all of those kinds of features. But I am going to leave a lot of
that kind of thing for maybe another time and place.
What I want to talk about today is the root of all of these problems, and it
is a very simple word with three letters called SIN. And that is the
perspective that I think is the most needful for us. Perhaps the most
devastating description of humanity is given in Romans, chapter 3, and I want
you to open your Bible to Romans 3, and I want to read you God's own
description of man. There are people who continue to tell us that man is
basically this good creation, this person who deep down inside is noble and
honorable, and that of course is the absolute opposite of the truth. In
Romans chapter 3, verse 10, we read concerning man, a series of quotes out of
the Old Testament that Paul puts together here. They run like this, speaking
of man, humanity in general,
There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of Asps (or snakes) is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace have they not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
I wish we could just lay that on the desk of every psychologist. That is the
clearest, most concise and direct description of man given in the Bible. Man
is corrupt, man is depraved, his heart, said the prophet Jeremiah is
deceitful and desperately wicked. Isaiah said the best that he does is
filthy rags. There is something deep within man that is so corrupt, and so
wicked, and so wretched, so evil, so brutal, so devastating, that if left
unchecked, or if given an opportunity to express itself it will bring about
The problem in our city is not lack of jobs; the problem in our city is not
lack of opportunity or lack of education; the problem in our city is not too
much possessions, materialism, those are only symptoms of a problem. The
problem in our city is the problem of the wretchedness of the human heart,
and nobody escapes that. It knows no race, it knows no color, it knows no
location. It is pervasive. Sin is the degenerative and damning power in the
human stream that pollutes every man and every woman and every part of life.
In Mark's gospel, chapter 7, verse 20, Jesus said, "That which proceeds out
of the man, that is what defiles the man." It is not his society. It is not
his economics. It is not his education or lack thereof. It is not anything
outside the man that pollutes the man, it is what is inside the man that
pollutes and defiles. Verse 21 of Mark 7 says,
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceeds the evil
thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of
coveting, and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy,
slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed
from within and defile the man.
Now what Jesus is saying essentially is what Paul said: man at his deepest
level is wretched, wicked, and sinful. It is not anything on the outside
that defiles him; it is what he is on the inside that defiles him. Again I
say: there is something, there is a principle, there is a power deep within
man that is so corrupt and so wicked, and so brutal, and so devastating, that
if left unchecked, or given an opportunity to act it will bring about
devastation. That is why in Joshua 7:13 sin is called the "accursed thing."
It is the venom of snakes, it is the stench of death, and it makes man at
home with brutality. And nobody is exempt. Everybody has this polluting
stream. It knows no racial bounds and sometimes it comes out even in those
who are supposed to be the model citizens, as well as those who are assumed
to be the criminal element.
Sin is the problem and sin by definition is going beyond the bounds that God
has set. It is lawlessness; it is rebellion and it cannot be by human effort
alone held in check on anybody's part. There is the heart of a rebel in
every sinner. The people who have the wealth become selfish. People who
have not the wealth become bitter. People who possess the goods become
completely self indulgent. The people who have nothing become angry. In
either case--it is sin.
The problem in our city and the problem in our nation, and the problem in our
world is the destructive, rebellious sin of man. There is the heart of a
rebel in every sinner and sin is God's would be murderer. In fact, so sinful
is man, that he will wear himself out. He will even kill himself sinning.
Jeremiah 9:5 says, "They weary themselves committing iniquity." Psalm 7:14
says the sinner "travails with iniquity," in other words, he is in literal
pain trying to bring forth sin, and he will do it even though it is painful
and sometimes deadly. People go to hell sweating. Sin causes evil to
overpower people. It causes the mind to be dominated with iniquity; the will
to be dominated; the emotions to be dominated; the affections to be
dominated. Sin overpowers behavior.
Sin causes people also to be controlled by Satan, because they have that sin
principle in them. It connects up with the arch-sinner Satan. They have
more in common with him then with anyone else, and so they become not only
victims of their own internal wretchedness, but they become victims of the
prince of the power of the air, of the ungodly spirit named Satan who works
in the hearts of unregenerate people. So you have not only men acting out of
the depravity of their own heart, but men acting in concert with the very
depravity of Satan himself and his whole empire.
Sin also subjects people, not only to the power of the internal wretchedness
and to Satan, but it subjects people to the painful miseries of life. Romans
8:20 says sin subjects the creature to emptiness. It corrupts the body; it
degrades all well-being; it destroys all relationships; it ends rest and joy
and comfort. It defiles conscience; it defiles beauty; it defiles love; it
darkens the mind; it makes man an unteachable and uncontrollable beast who is
sensual and never satisfied. It robs man of his honor; it scars him who is
created in the image of God; it robs man of his peace, because the Bible says
the wicked are like the "troubled sea when it cannot rest whose waters cast
up muck and dirt."
Sin sets men on a damning course for eternal hell and sin is the problem. As
long as these people keep meeting, these "Reverends" with no churches and
these churches with no gospel. And as long as politicians and policeman and
whoever else meet: presidents, and congresses, and councils, and try to solve
the problem of man educationally or economically--they will never succeed.
It cannot be solved there, it is not an environmental problem--it is a nature
problem. It doesn't come from the outside in--it comes from the inside out!
Admittedly, society can do somethings to help control the wretchedness within
man. It can impose on him some compunctions that force him into some level
of submission to code and law, but it cannot change the wretchedness of the
human heart which is ready to burst at any moment when it is exacerbated, or
when it is given opportunity.
You would hate to imagine, wouldn't you, what all of us would be like if we
lived in a society with no laws and no controls. Sinful men would destroy
every good thing. They would destroy each other and we saw a little taste of
that in the recent months and in the recent days in our own city. Fallen man
is so bad, and so selfish, and so destructive, and so unkind deep inside,
that God has had to set some controls on him. Let me make it as simple as I
can. There are basically two institutions, God ordained, to control man's
sin. One is the family and the other is the government.
The family exists to control individuals in the very most intimate level of
human interaction. The family exists for the purpose of teaching children
that they have to live a controlled life. You got to get a handle on your
wretchedness. Teaching them that there are consequences. Why do you think
the Bible talks about using the rod on a child? Because a child will only
modify behavior when evil behavior has such severe consequence and pain that
the child doesn't want that. Corporal punishment, as it were, is what is
used in the family as God has designed it to bring control to society. The
family is the first point of accountability to exercise personal control.
You have the breakdown of the family--you have the loss of all of that.
Then there is society or government, the institution that God has ordained
for social control. Personal control should be taught, nurtured, in the
family; social control--by the government. Those are the two institutions
that God has ordained. In the family God says the parents have the authority
and the children are to submit to it. In the government, God says the
government is the authority there and the citizens are to submit to it. If
you don't have personal controls being exercised firmly, and justly, and
righteously, in a family or in a society, your going to have all hell
breaking loose all over everywhere, because the depravity of man will run
Now, both of those areas of control sort of come together and you will see
how they weave there way through. A list of thoughts that I want to give you
as you look at the current tragedy. I am just like you: I see what I see on
the television, and I read what I read in the newspaper, and I hear what I
hear on the radio, and try to sit back and think. The one other component
that I have at my disposal (and so do you) is the Bible. And while everybody
is trying very hard to figure this out without God's perspective, I can go to
the word of God and it is very clear and simple for me to see, and for you I
hope as well.
We have a fatal sin problem that can only be remedied by the gospel--the only
hope for equity, and justice, and mercy, and all of that in balance in our
society. The only hope is Jesus Christ transforming people's hearts. The
hope of Los Angeles is Jesus Christ. Do you know what breaks my heart? You
can drive through the inner city of Los Angeles just as you can drive through
this part of our city and out into Simi Valley, and you will find whether you
are in Simi Valley, or whether you are in Watts in south central Los Angeles,
churches on every single corner who have little or no impact in the
community. Who have somehow long ago abandoned a faithful, bold,
confrontive, direct, loving, compassionate, proclamation of the gospel of
Jesus Christ that can transform people's hearts and end these kinds of
attitudes and actions.
My grief (as you might have expected) is for the lost people who have no hope
of changing their insides, anymore than a leopard could change a spot. My
grief is for the churches that have prostituted themselves away from a saving
message to some other kind of social orientation that can't do anything in
the long run.
Now, trying to make some sense out of this chaos, I jotted down a few of the
things that I think might put it in perspective. I have to confess to you
that I'm sort of interested in what I am saying too because I'm saying things
that I never said before, and didn't necessarily plan to say, so this is one
sermon that even I want to attend. I also realize that I run a certain risk
of stepping over the line at some point and I don't want to offend anybody.
I have no agenda other than to deal with the sinfulness of man, and to call a
whole city to repentance and to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to
call you people to live your Christianity, wherever it is, in a way that
would honor the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have listed some of the important things to note about the condition of man
and if you understand this I think that you will understand what's going on
in our culture; in our world even. By the way, I might just mention to you
that what we have seen in L.A. can't hold a candle to what the people in
Croatia and Yugoslavia are undergoing. That same kind of racial animosity
that actually has nothing to do with black or white; nothing that defined.
It has to do with bitter hatred of people who you would assume would be of
very similar race. The wretchedness of man; the "front" for this is all over
the face of the earth.
Here are the things that you need to understand. Here are the sins that
basically end up in this kind of activity. One, and I don't know why they
are in this order, this is just the order that I wrote them down in.
1. The terrible tragedy of the futility of living for pleasure.
We have a society that is in to "cheap thrills." We have a culture that
wants the feeling--mindless kicks. At its best, it is a very educated yuppie
society that is into the latest fashion; and the latest cars; and the
fanciest houses; and the best restaurants; and all the jewelry; and the whole
nine yards. We have a culture that is not particularly cognitive, it is not
thinking deeply about issues. It is not dealing with human need at its
truest level. It is into self-fulfillment, self-pleasure. It is into kicks;
it is into the rush; it is into fun; it is into feelings--pleasure at every
You will find, that were you to even talk about motivation with some of the
people that were looting, and robbing, and stealing, and killing, in the
city. You would find them saying things like, "Stealing, and looting, and
shooting, and beating is a kick. It's a high. It's a rush. It's a thrill."
It's a cheap kind of thrill. It disregards human life. It cheapens
everything. We have a sensual society. This society is literally poured a
steady diet of sensuality--get a thrill. It is not a cognitive society.
Neal Postman was right a few years back when he wrote a book called "Amusing
Ourselves To Death." We are so far into pleasure. We are so far into fun.
We are so far into cheap thrills and kicks and highs that that is all we live
for. Those kinds of things end up in what you have seen.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:12, last week, we saw this: that God is going to judge
those who didn't believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness. 2 Peter
2:13 says, (listen to this) "They count it pleasure to riot." 1 Timothy 5:6,
"She who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives."
When you live for pleasure: it is the death of dignity; it is the death of
respect; it is the death of potential; it is the death of achievement; it is
the death of personal growth; it is the death of the mind. You have a
society that is literally consumed with pleasure, feeling, sensation, and
they are going to go after it any way they can get it.
As you look at this you learn another thing, another condition that exists in
the human heart that manifests itself:
2. The terrible, terrible, reality of selfishness.
Whether you are talking about racial prejudice, or whether you are talking
about looting and stealing, or whatever, all of that is a manifestation of
selfishness. Has there ever been a society (ask yourself) as self-centered
as this one? Has there ever? Has there ever been a society as egotistical
as this one? Pride is exalted.
I remember Mohammed Ali started a trend. Mohammed Ali was more a philosopher
than a boxer. He was a great boxer but his boxing didn't affect but only a
few people--the ones he hit! He was much more a philosopher than a boxer,
and his philosophy introduced into American culture a brand new issue. He is
known for a statement: "I am . . ." (finish it) ". . . the greatest!" He
legitimized pride. He legitimized ego, not just for black people but for
everybody. He transcended his race. He became a hero of massive proportions
to a whole culture of young people. This tragic man did more to legitimize
selfishness and legitimize pride than any other person in American history,
maybe in the history of the world. He has not affected this world with his
fighting; he has affect the world with his philosophy of selfism. He was the
first person who ever got away with what would be called murder in the sense
of advocating pride as a virtue. He took a whole generation of people into
the pit of selfism.
We have a generation that believes they matter above everybody else. I am
the most important person. The Bible says God hates pride. God hates the
uplifted look--haughty eyes. It destroys love, it kills brotherhood, it
destroys care, it ends kindness, and most of all it kills the supreme virtue
in all of human conduct and that is the virtue of humility. "Pride and
arrogance I hate" says the Lord (Proverbs 8:13). When pride comes there
comes dishonor. Pride doesn't bring honor--it brings dishonor (Proverbs
11:2). Proverbs 13:10 says, "Through pride comes strife." Proverbs 16:18
says, "Pride goes before destruction." Proverbs 29:23 says, "A man's pride
will bring him low." On the other hand, the same verse says, "Honor will
uphold the humble."
It is amazing that when people become consumed with themselves and who they
are, everybody else becomes only means for self-gratification. You have
pride corrupting every part of human stream. In James, would you remember
4:1 and following:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you [this is
a very, very important text to answer that]? What is it that
causes riots, and quarrels, and fights, and wars? Is not the
source your pleasure that wage war in your members? First of
all, it's your tremendous need for pleasure. You lust and do
not have so you commit murder, you are envious, you cannot
obtain so you fight and you quarrel.
That's it! You want pleasure and you want what you want because you think
that you are the most important person in the world and if you can't get it
to fulfill your lust--you'll kill if you have to. Only humble people can
love; only humble people can care; only humble people can sacrifice; only
humble people can give; only humble people are content; only humble people
can live their life for the benefit of others. We live in a society of
egomaniacs and everybody wants what he wants for himself and whatever it
takes to get it or whoever I have to ignore to possess what I possess--I'm
going to do it.
It makes me laugh really, in a sad way, when I see some wealthy movie star
who is, you know, making millions and millions upon millions of dollars come
on television and make a $1,000 donation to feed the homeless. Give me a
break! $1,000 and they want a plaque on the wall. They have no clue that
they are steeped in the sin of selfishness, materialism, egocentrism. The
sins of loving pleasure and loving self will always cause disaster.
3. The evil of materialism.
Thirdly, I'm just touching these lightly. They follow along with each other.
You see, we live in a society (get this) where things are more important than
people. Can you believe it: you go into a store and you kill a person to
take a stereo? Absolutely inconceivable! You murder a guy, you shoot him in
the head to take his money so you can buy a CD player. This is materialism.
Materialism says this thing is more important than a person. Part of this,
believe me, is the legacy of evolution. Part of this is the legacy of that
mindless philosophy today that says "A rock is a rat is a dog is a boy." In
other words, everything is the same and man isn't any more important than
anything else. Killing a cat is just as bad as killing a person and all of
that kind of thing. You demean man and his dignity as created in the image
of God and you shoot him to get a CD player. This is materialism at the base
At the other extreme in our society is the materialism of those people who
consume more stuff than they could possibly use. More stereos than they
could possibly listen to, while poor people have little or nothing. You see
it is at every level. It knows no economics, this sin of materialism. Jesus
said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of things which he
possesses" (Luke 12:15). In fact, Jesus said, "What's it going to profit a
man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" Then what is he
going to own that he can give God in exchange for his own eternal soul. Is
he going to go to God and say, "Hey God, I've got to tell you this, I've got
a big house and I would like to swap it for my eternal soul." Or, "God, hey
I've got a 'Boom Box' you'd really like--I'd like to switch for my soul."
No! You can get it all, but what are you going to do? Are you going to give
it in exchange for your soul when you face God?
Sinful people wrapped up in love of pleasure; love of self; and love of
things; are bound to have horrific conflict.
4. The tragedy of amorality.
Another component in this that you have to understand that consumes and leads
to unbridled, unchecked devastation is the tragedy of amorality. You are
seeing in part also, the legacy of the sexual revolution of the sixties. The
sexual revolution of the sixties is so devastating in this culture [that] the
arch-criminal in our society could well be Hugh Hefner. He has probably
killed as many or more people than anybody else. And maybe running a close
second to him is Phil Donahue. Why? Because they have advocated deviant
life style. They have given a forum to every sexual deviation.
You talk about mass murder, take a look at the people dying of AIDs in our
society because they have freedom, in their own thinking, to live that kind
of lifestyle because the society tolerates it. The legacy of the sexual
revolution is absolutely horrifying, beyond description. The loss of all
moral sense has shattered the American family, therefore what you have is a
whole generation of children and young people produced without an
understanding of moral values; without any restraints; without any controls.
Then that one personal control, accountability source: the family, has just
been blown to bits.
You have a culture steeped in pornography, violently sexual music, perverse
and wicked, wretched sexual conversation. You take the movies of today, the
music of today, the "rap-stuff" of today, and that pornographic kind of filth
simply pours gasoline on whatever fire of sin is burning in this culture.
Unwanted pregnancy, abortion, unwanted children, single parents, abused
children, rape, neglected infants, unwanted families, juvenile delinquency,
divorce, VD, AIDS, it's all the direct result of an amoral society. They
have been driven by lusts.
Some sociologists question whether America will ever produce the great
musicians, the great thinkers, the great scholars, the great artists, the
great poets, the great writers, the great geniuses in fields like it has in
the past, because so many young people spend all their time and thought and
energy on sexual fantasy and sexual pleasure. Literally they are a
dissipated, preoccupied, sexually deviant generation who could never produce
great, great, social benefits. They literally have sacrificed their mind for
their glands. The music and the films of our day exacerbate the problem and
we are dominated by sexual violence and deviation. That's why this kind of
thing happens. You have people who are living only at a "gut level." They
live for the next sex thrill and that is just a part of the whole sensuality.
Families are just ripped to shreds.
I have talked on a number of occasions to my friend Tony Evans, who has
preached here. One of the really fine, outstanding black pastors in America,
down at the Oak Cliff Church in Dallas. Tony says the biggest problem he has
beyond anything else (nothing even comes close to this) is trying to deal in
his community with shattered families and the devastation that that brings on
the whole of that society. Everything is just ripped loose from its
moorings. This is the sexual revolution. It has destroyed our whole
5. The danger of anger.
You not only have the love of pleasure, the love of self, the love of things,
sexual perversion, another component in what we are seeing is the danger of
anger. You must understand why the Bible forbids anger. Anger was once
recognized as a sin. When I grew up, self control was socially valuable. I
remember teachers writing home letters to my parents (they did that all the
time). That's the truth! The typical letter said, "Johnny has a lot of
potential but he never has any self control." What they didn't understand
was that I had things to say and I needed to say them. It was just too bad
that the teacher was talking at the same time. They used to say, "He just
has no self control. Johnny lacks self control!" That was pinned up in our
kitchen. They didn't know this was a gift. This was a ministry. But my
parents used to spank me because I did not exercise self control.
Self control was a virtue--you didn't say everything you thought. You didn't
vent your venom and your hostility and your anger. By the way, psychologists
know how totally self destructive that psychological theory was and it is now
passe. But that was the hot one when I was a student. Anger is now exalted.
I have heard, I bet you fifty times, "The people have a right to be angry."
Have you heard that? "They have every right to be angry." What do you mean
they have a right to be angry--anger is a sin! Nobody has the right to be
angry. A policeman doesn't have a right to be angry. A criminal doesn't
have the right to be angry. Nobody has a right to be angry. The only thing
you ever have a right to be angry over is when God is dishonored--holy wrath.
This is a Rambo mentality. "I'm angry--bang! bang! bang!" That's it! (Sound
effects surprised you--didn't they? Still a little boy in me I guess.)
You don't have a right to be angry. Ephesians 4:31 says, "Let all
bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you,
with all evil." James 1:20, "The wrath of man works not the righteousness of
God." You don't get the righteousness of God out of the wrath of man.
Ecclesiastics 7:9 says, "Anger rests in the bosom of a fool." Anger is just
the venting of sinful flesh. Anger destroys and it even destroys the one who
is angry. Anger is always related to another thing so it's anger/hate. Hate
is intolerable. There is no place for anger. There is no place for
hatred--none! You say, "But what about my enemy? What about the one who
offended me? What about the one who treats me unjustly? What about people
who are reeking havoc in our society? What about them? Shouldn't we be
Listen. These are the words of Jesus, Matthew 5:43, "You shall love your
neighbor, and hate your enemy, say the people of your time. But I say to
you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order that
you may be the sons of your Father who's in heaven." What does that mean?
That means that when God looks at His enemies, He's concerned about their
well being and you be the same. Jesus, when he was reviled, reviled not
back. When He was slaughtered on a cross He said, "Father, forgive them for
they know not what they do." There is no place for anger and hatred. Hatred
is an offense to God. Hatred is a wickedness. Any kind of hatred at all,
directed towards anybody, no matter what they may have done to you is outside
the tolerance of God and is a sin. You do not hate and there i
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